Historically, the MVP has been chosen arbitrarily—a mingling of analysis and intuition. This can be great by promoting varying styles of analysis. Broader conversations can launch new names into conversations. Different ideas challenge norms. For this list, I adhere to a strict criteria I’ve developed over the years—an amalgam of analyzing film, statistics, and value-theory. The overarching question I try to answer with these rankings is how well a player sets up a random team to win the championship. (This approach is derivative of the works of analysts like Seth Partnow and Ben Taylor.)
This still limits consideration to the regular season. Expectations for Playoff risers and fallers is irrelevant. I solely care about how well a player sets the team up to succeed in the Playoffs (where “things matter most”). This means actual seeding is less important, insofar as home-court advantage doesn’t play a crucial role in later rounds. To balance these factors, I concocted a championship odds calculator that inputs estimates of player value and games played. (The impact estimates are based on analysis and interpretation.)
10. Damian Lillard (NR)
This is dependent on Lillard not being a train wreck on defense, which the impact metrics seem to agree on. His offense has reached the level it once achieved, and his volume combination of scoring and playmaking is matched only by Luka Doncic. Major one-number metrics also seem to think he’s on the level of Curry, Jokic, and the likes.
9. Donovan Mitchell (-)
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve watched Cleveland, so I’m banking on a sustainable improvement in his defensive awareness here, which I imagine is feasible based on his situation. His offense is seriously defiant of the vertical nature of the game, though I do wonder a bit about his fairly low rate of scoring around the rim. Will restraint minimize his drive-and-kick playmaking? Not yet, that’s for sure!
8. Jayson Tatum (-1)
I don’t have much more to say about Tatum compared to last month. I’d like to see a bit more creation for teammates if I’m going to move him into serious MVP contention. But, wow… His combination of elite scoring and smothering perimeter defense is something you get from no one else on this list.
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo (-1)
If anything, I was expecting him to move up! His scoring efficiency has some catching up to do, though the remainder of his offensive skills seem to be on par with previous seasons. To my eye, his defensive awareness is slightly down, though I refrain from settling on that as a real thing since I don’t watch every game. Regardless, it’s hard to surpass an acceptable offensive number-one with Defensive Player of the Year potential.
6. Anthony Davis (+2)
This definitely isn’t my most confident pick. Davis is clearly better on both sides of the ball. LeBron James’s dominant style of offense has taken the backseat to Davis’s chops as a finisher and screener, and the result is mind-boggling statistics. His scoring output is at an all-time high. He looks like one of, if not, the best defensive players in the world. He also just looks better moving, manipulating low-post defenders with sly cuts and stampedes.
5. Joel Embiid (-)
Embiid is a fantastic two-way star. His scoring is the best it’s ever been and his playmaking is improving. He’s a beast around the rim on both sides of the ball, and his guard-like movements make him one of the most dangerous players in the game. He’s definitely playing like an MVP-level player, and if he were doing this two or three years ago, he might be a clear-cut finalist.
4. Luka Doncic (-)
I’m notoriously hesitant about gawking at volume statistics. Doncic is arguably the most prolific scorer and playmaker in the sport. Does that necessarily translate to championship offense when his teams are characterized by lackluster efficiencies and late-game fatigue? That’s why I’m not yet convinced. His defense is slightly improving however, and being one of the four-best players in basketball is nothing to shy away from.
3. Stephen Curry (-2)
Two main points move Curry down for me compared to last month: 1) the unsustainability of his finishing, which I explained was the deciding factor in his top spot, and then there’s the increase in competition that rivals his scoring output. If he were a strong defender, he’d possibly have the top spot again. But in this current defensive state with the Warriors, I moved him down until further notice.
2. Kevin Durant (+1)
There’s the aforementioned passing improvement from my last post, and his more solid defensive package pushes him over Curry for me. He’s now officially a member of the prestigious “30 points on +10% efficiency” club, and remains one of the three-best scorers and offensive players in the world for me.
1. Nikola Jokic (+1)
The best offensive player in the world, looking like one of the greatest offensive players of all time. He’s had an argument as basketball’s top scorer and playmaker for over a year now, but this season he’s dialed it up to eleven. There’s more than enough time to wait for his offensive rebounding to catch up. He also finally looks like a neutral defender in impact metrics, which to my eye is more reflective of his actual impact.
 Data from Basketball-Reference, DunksAndThrees, Thinking Basketball
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